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Post-Abortion Services In Ontario Still Foster Abortion Stigma

09/18/2015 12:27 EDT | Updated 09/18/2015 12:59 EDT
Shaul Schwarz via Getty Images
MEXICO CITY, MEXICO - SEPTEMBER 27: Ms. M has a quite moment minutes before entering her abortion procedure September 27, 2008 in Mexico City. Instead of resorting to an illegal clinic in her state of Baja California, Ms. M traveled to Mexico City to access the procedure without fear or shame. In August, Mexico's Supreme Court defied protests from the powerful Roman Catholic Church and ruled that the capital's law decriminalizing abortion is constitutional thus letting the April 2007 law grating abortions in Mexico City legally stand. The law, reflecting decades of advocacy work, is a first for Mexico?and much of Latin America, where only three countries (Barbados, Guyana and Cuba) allow abortion. (Photo by Shaul Schwarz/Getty Image)

The stigma around abortions is so strong, even some counsellors struggle with talking about it.

A new study from the University of Ottawa says some post-abortion counsellors are contributing to negative perceptions of about the procedure, even when they’re posed to help.

The study, which will be published in the journal Contraception, looks at how 17 different post-abortion services in Ontario approached and diagnosed a client who revealed they needed help following their abortion.

The services ranged from three secular and three religiously affiliated talklines to one sexual health center and 10 crisis pregnancy centres that offer phone-based support.

In the study's conclusion, lead researcher Kathryn J. LaRoche explained that while all counsellors listened to the clients and offered support, many used shaming and stigmatizing language, which she believes stems from counsellors' belief that abortion is traumatic.

“In one case, the counsellor ‘diagnosed’ our client and her partner with ‘post-abortion stress disorder’ less than three minutes into the call,” LaRoche said.

Numerous studies have looked at the relationship between mental health and abortion. According to the American Psychological Association, the risk of mental health problems is no greater for women who have an abortion during the first trimester than for women who give birth to a child resulting from an unplanned pregnancy.

And earlier this year, researchers from UC San Francisco's Medical School revealed that while abortions can cause feelings of guilt or sadness, 95 per cent of women who have undergone an abortion say they do not regret it.

Dr. Angel M. Foster, who oversaw the Ottawa study, says the findings should be used to steer women towards post-abortion services that offer non-judgmental and non-directive services, unlike Ontario’s crisis pregnancy centres.

LaRoche, meanwhile, suggests the Ontario Ministry of Health should take a page from the Quebec government, which has released materials denouncing crisis pregnancy centres.